Better Late Than Never: THOUGHTS ON FRANK DEFORD

During a job interview with NFL Films near the end of my senior year of college, I sat across from the man who named the Dallas Cowboys “America’s Team.” Older, quieter, and more serious than the rest of the 4-person panel conducting the session, he spoke up only occasionally, and throughout, appeared generally unmoved by any thoughts I had to offer.

During one answer about something else entirely I happened to mention Sports Illustrated, a side-door he immediately threw open.

“Who’s your favorite Sports Illustrated writer?” he asked.

It was a completely subjective question from the senior guy in the room, someone whose thinking I could not possibly have prepared for, and yet who could on the merits of any one answer determine the fate of my application.

Frank Deford, I replied.

“Mmmm,” he nodded. “Deford is the greatest writer that magazine has ever had.”

Never mind that a court of law would have dismissed it as an opinion. In these chambers, the fact that mattered was my taste and the head magistrate’s were the same. It was enough to calm my racing heart in the moment; it was what came back to me first when Films called with a job offer a week later; and it was what I thought of immediately upon hearing recently that Deford had died.

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten,
either write something worth reading or do things worth the writing.”

Ben Franklin wrote it. Frank Deford merely embodied it — penning himself a permanent place in the history of American letters by both writing volumes worth reading and indisputably doing something worth the writing: inspiring others. They are many, I am one. Officially, since the day in 1999 when I read “The Ring Leader” and loved it with the pure, inexplicable certainty that only the best creators spark.

Despite the example of his writing and the cosmic assist he provided in that job interview, I never did make the appropriate effort to thank Frank. Not even given the opportunity a few years into my career, when he was one of my interview subjects the first day I ever directed a documentary film crew.  Be a pro, I thought.  Circuitous anecdotes in which a thesis of gratitude only might be clear to the listener, well, those are a tricky species. Better to try being a competent inquisitor than come off as a stammering ink-sniff.  So I stuck to the task at hand.

It was an air-ball with no do-over.  So let this be my penance.

Thank you, Mr. Deford.

I’m happy to say I’m still at NFL Films, the company your inspiration helped lead me to join. The week I marked my 15th work anniversary was the same week your pen went silent forever. Since then, countless lovely words have been spilled in your honor. But unless you, Frank, got out in front of the Reaper, filing the copy for a publication to be named later, I’m certain there’ll be no written tribute to you that’s quite worthy.

For its small part, my best assessment of your influence is to offer this: that whatever accolades every G.O.A.T. of Sports’ Future may ultimately compile, all their resumes will still possess the same hole: Born too late to be profiled by as great a writer as any magazine ever had.

FOR AN HOUR in New York in 2005, I conducted this interview of Frank Deford for the first long form documentary I ever worked on, “Rozelle: Building America’s Game.” On this day part of my job as director was to bring props in the event we got stuck shooting in an undesirably blank room. And so, my own typewriter, books, and portrait of my high school adorn the set behind one of my writing heroes.

FLOWER SHOWER

A flower shower

Turned the tree green

Turned the grass pinker

Than I ever seen:

Cotton-candy colored

It yesterday was

When into and out of it

All the bees buzzed.

Then the quick change.

Perhaps it was the breeze:

Petals went packing

To the lawn from the leaves.

Now the Pink Tree Photo

I had taken in my head

Resembles Sun-dodging

confetti instead.

ALL FIGURED OUT

Want in on my Master Plan?
Come closer and listen to me.
Because the blueprint of it’s now taking shape
Oh so satisfactorally.

When’s it start, my Master Plan?
Well don’t worry it won’t be long now.
Just know by the end life will be so sweet
We’ll sweat candy bars from our brows.

Before that part, the Master Plan middle
Involves espionage and boats,
Action car chases, exotic horse races,
Fine jewelry, machine guns, fur coats.

What’s the Master Plan Step 1, you ask?
Simple: win the lottery.
Huh?
Well….
…..guess what…
If you’re gonna’ roll on the floor laughing at it,
Then out of the Plan you can be.

Lighting in a Bottle – New Orleans

WINDING DOWN WINTER: A Steller Story from Hamilton, NJ

The remarkable GROUNDS FOR SCULPTURE is like no place I’ve ever been.  Part museum, part botanical gardens, this indoor/outdoor art gallery contains the realistic and abstract, the sublime and ridiculous.  As remarkable as the space looked during my visit, I left thinking that I could probably enjoy entirely different experiences of it in the spring, summer, or fall ; in the early morning or by the light of the scattered lampposts and landscape lights.  So large and diverse is the installation, that every trip there seems as though it would offer something unique.

On the afternoon I spent at this world class exhibition — tucked into a quiet, central New Jersey town between Trenton and Princeton — the plants on the snow covered landscape were still shivering, but doing so with their leaves turned optimistically toward the sun.  The scenes produced by the intersection of the natural and man-made artwork on that Eve of Spring inspired my latest STELLER STORY, readable by clicking on the photo below.

Click the photo above to view scenes from the Grounds for Sculpture.

THE LOOKS AROUND

There are almost no places
Where there are no faces
Even in the cases
Of in-between spaces

Like the Frowning-Big Tree
His acting has no range
Which isn’t so strange:
Bark expressions don’t change.

Or the Tractor-Wheel Elf
While his view always spins
That strong rubber chin
Won’t let sickness set in.

Perry is the given name
of Snowy-House Face.
While the world to summer always wants to race
He for hot weather forever must brace.

Yes, even while you
sit at work thinking
The-Face-In-The-Drop-Ceiling-Tiles
is blinking.

Take it from me
the Garden-Stone Grump
I may look like a rock-headed chump
But I’ve gathered perspective here from my rump:

Ungaze from the obvious, like Mr. Moon,
Don’t let on the foreground your focus last
And slowly at first but before long fast
Will appear all the faces you used to rush past.

NOTE:  To see this poem with photos in the STELLER STORY format in which it originally appeared, click here.  

ON DR. SEUSS’S BIRTHDAY

Grab 100 candles
Add a baker’s dozen more
For what happened this day
In 1904:

Little Ted Geisel
Arrived on the scene
Who could know at that time
What he one day would mean?

To the Doc who still keeps
Brains and funny bones fed,
To a Cat like none other,
Happy 113th, Ted!

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To see more like this, go here, where it originally appeared on 3/2/17.

SKIN DEEP DIVE

Studying the dictionary,
Johnny Corkforbrains
Got stuck up at the top one day
Then down his knowledge rained:

“Avocado, alligator …
skins not not the same …
and an A resides
at the start of both your names!

The gator grows in swamps,
The ‘cado grows on trees,
But trees are FOUND in swamps …
How different can you be?

How leathery you feel,
How deep dark green you look,
Like pictures of each other
That I have seen in books.

Of course in person, no,
I’ve never met your kinds,
But don’t see how not doing so
Could put my views behind?

The chance you’re NOT related
To me seems mighty small,
No two such similar dermises
Could not be connected at all.

For further proof, consider:
The gator’s alias, ‘Croc’,
Which just so happens sounds just like
The ‘cado’s alt-name, ‘Guac’.

If you must, pretend they’re not the same:
Avocado, alligator.
But trust me there’ll be evidence:
Birth certificates released later.”

JOINED CHIEFS

Pow saw Wow

across the street

Pow and Wow

exchanged greets

Pow approached Wow,

“Rest our feet?”

Pow and Wow agreed:

that couldn’t be beat.

Pow and Wow

got out of the heat

Pow and Wow

found a seat

Pow and Wow

were loud and discreet as

Pow and Wow’s

talk roamed like a fleet.

Pow and Wow’s

chat got so neat that

Pow and Wow

decided to delete

Any words between them,

and that’s how

a close meeting of the minds

became called a powwow.

WINTORY LAP

On the shortest day of the year
The sun takes an extra long lunch,
So long it doesn’t end until
Almost the next day’s brunch.

Head lights and night lights get lots of action
The day of the year that’s shortest.
While that day more than any other is for
golf clubs and lawn mowers the boredest.

It seems like it should be relaxing and yet
There’s always so much around you,
On the year’s shortest day, falling as it does,
Right about when the holidays do.

Still songs like “Oh, What a Night” or “Thank
the Lord for the Nighttime” spread cheer,
Of how happy folks get after early sunset
On the shortest day of the year.

shortest_edit

Among everything else it is, the shortest day of the year is half a calendar away from its cousin the longest day of the year.

THE RIGHT STUFFING

Perhaps the best meal of the year
comes weeks after Turkey Day.
It’s a nest built from all the trimmings
That have not yet by then flown away.

Start with any bits of gobbler left
Toss them in a bowl,
Add a scoop of stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes,
Whatever you’ve got … it’s all gold.

If you still have it, stir in gravy,
Then pour it all in a crust.
Cinch the dough, bake on high, that’s it.
No other meal prep takes less fuss!

It’s the yummiest food recycling
That’s plain easy to get right,
So try Thanksgiving Pie:
Send that old crusty bird back in flight.

THE BOOT FLEECE POLICE

Mom got new rain boots
Red, rubber, and tall.
Dad asked, “How’d you choose those?”
Mom said, “They’re cool. That’s all.”

Now my Mom’s no liar
But I thought, nonetheless,
Let’s take those cool boots
And put’em to the test.

So when she was too busy
To stop my experiment
I took some cold milk
And into her boots it went.

Like a good scientist
I let my test tube be
And went off to play
For an hour or three.

Perhaps it was longer
I lost track when Mom screamed,
The unexpected milk
In her boot had her steamed.

I said, “Wait one sec, Mom,
Take a breath, cool down.
Allow me to measure that
Milk puddle on the ground.”

Once I had I said, “Mom,
I’d be angry too!
This spilled milk is warm.
So those boots? Not so cool.”

The thing that they sold you
Is not what you bought.
It seems in some faux-thermo-boot-scam you’re caught!”

Overcome with shock
Or maybe with grief
Like anyone who’s been
Taken by a thief

She said not a word but just looked at me,
And I wondered perhaps if deep down she felt glee
At her little scientist’s new discovery.
Yes, I thought to myself, pride must be what I see.

MOON TAKER

As they headed home from Nana’s house
late one clear, dark night,
Fred said to his Mom and Dad,
“See the moon there,
big and bright?

Could I pretty please this once
take it home with me?”
“Why, Fred,” his mother said,
“that idea sure is…….
lovely.

“And maybe you could,” she said,
“But how will you reach and get the moon?”
“How I get the kickball from the garage top shelf,”
Fred said,
“by knocking it down with the broom.”

“That sounds good,” said Fred’s Dad,
“but how’ll you catch it when it falls?”
“Easy,” said Fred,
“in Baby Jane’s old crib
where we keep all her dolls.”

“And just where would you keep the Moon,” Dad asked,
“once we got it to our place?”
“No problem,” Fred said,
“I’ll clear out my big wagon,
the red one, to make some space.

Then I can drive the moon around,
and show him our whole street.
The way he’s movin’ above the trees,
makes me think
he thinks seein’ stuff is neat.”

“Well that’s just it,” Fred’s Dad said
as their house came into sight.
“Here we are, back from Nana’s,
and the moon’s still with us,
big and bright.

That makes me think the moon loves traveling
just like you have guessed.”
“So, maybe,” Fred’s Mom said,
“leaving him to roam the sky
would be best.

And the next night that we’re out like this
and see the moon again,
I’ll bet he’ll hang out with us some more,
to prove, once more,
we’re friends.”

Fred gazed up at the sky and thought
about what his Mom and Dad had said.
“Yes, maybe you’re right,” he told them,
“I’m tired.
And the moon doesn’t quite look ready for bed.”

moon_edit

CLOVERDEALED

So you found a 4-leaf clover.

Well, I hunt bigger things:

Like five and six leaf clovers

And the extra luck they bring.

And the highly coveted clover

With leaves that number seven,

Legend says those who find one

Will go straight to heaven.

The eight leaf clover doubles up

What a plain four leafer brings

The 9-leaf clover isn’t lucky at all:

Touching it actually stings.

Ten leaf clovers are what I’m really after

They’re the best it gets.

So you’d like to come hunting them with me?

Hmmmm….well, ok…let’s.

I’ll bring you along for the low low price

Of that old 4-leaf clover you’ve got.

What’s that? I said 4-leafs don’t interest me?

I said that?!? Well. I must have forgot.

cloverdealed_edit

Field Notebook Renderings of Members of Genus: Polyleaf – (from upper left corner) The Basic aka The Four Score ; The And-1 ; The O’Six Pack ; The Stairway to Seven ; The Octclover ; The Stinger aka the Paul Newman aka The Henry Gondorff ; The Big Time aka the Green Whale aka The O’Derek

ROLLING in NOLA: A Steller Story from Making a Movie in New Orleans

For the past six months I’ve had the great good fortune of working on a documentary film about a remarkable year in the life of the city of New Orleans. Here is a Steller Story photo journal behind the scenes of the production.

The film, titled “The Timeline: Rebirth in New Orleans”, tells the story of how after Hurricane Katrina, a great city, its football team the Saints, and their iconic stadium the Superdome were forced to respond to an unprecedented natural disaster.  It premieres on Wednesday, September 21 at 8pm/ET on NFL Network, and features new interviews with Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and former NFL safety and ALS advocate Steve Gleason.

BuccanAir

The Pilot Pirate

flies a peg-leg plane.

The Pilot Pirate

keeps booty on the brain.

The Pilot Pirate

has a sneaky parakeet,

who’d rather have an aisle

than a window seat.

The Pilot Pirate

navigates sea and air.

The Pilot Pirate

doesn’t have a care.

The Pilot Pirate

makes the world his lair,

soaring and swording

and ARRRR-ing everywhere.

The Pilot Pirate

wears an eye patch,

and when putting it on, yells,

“Batten down the hatch!”

The Pilot Pirate

goes fast but doesn’t run,

because swashbuckling sweaty

ruins the fun.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 11.56.58 PM

This photo first appeared on Instagram.  For more like it, click here.

CORNER OF WORD

Not quite as far out as

Where the sidewalk ends

Is where Word Street into

Other Word Street bends.

And at that intersection

Is a Dutch French Horn

And a squirrel swirl

And a torn acorn,

And a Bizarre Bazaar

And a big clinched couch

And Dorian DeLorean

In a crazyman crouch,

Holding over his head

A zydeco xylophone

To play a song for Aunt Cake

Louder than a cyclone,

Or a superbomb blast

From an Arctic typhoon

Howling over the surface

Of a baboon lagoon.

And inevitably when

That sound causes debris,

What acceptable receptacle

Will there possibly be?

Well that stripe of insight

Might be too great an onus

To expect even from

Wizened Old Bonus Jonas.

But there where Word Street bends

To Other Word Street

The junction’s real function’s

Clear as a snare beat:

To be a place friendly

to sound percolation

And weird letter unions,

night, day, and morn,

A magic locale of

twinkling tongue twisters,

the spot on the map

where poems may be born.

painttable_edit

CAN’T BE LICKED

All day I could eat ice cream

Then still have more at night

To say there is a time I can’t eat ice cream

is not right.

That’s why in all my belt loops

I hook on sixteen spoons,

It’s why at my house there’s

Ten freezers in each room

And toppings stashed inside the pocket

Of each coat I own

And why I’m working on a way

To eat ice cream through my phone.

Ice cream may not be perfect

But it’s very very close

So to sundaes, cones, and chipwiches,

Let’s raise an ice cream toast.

licked_edit

ONE SUMMER ROADMAP

Collected from May to today

From New Orleans to Albany

These shots together form a

FlyIreWerDelis.

Buzzing, brightening

Petals, pavement,

Earth, sky, shining sea:

A mashed-up summer roadmap bouquet,

The FlyIreWerDelis

FlyIreWerDelis

For more photos, check out my Instagram gallery at tweed_typewriter